UFB keeps on rolling, but uptake requires Big Two’s marketing muscle and good content

The government’s $1.5 billion Ultra Fast Broadband (UFB) network is now in reach of 135,000 end users, but less than 4,000 New Zealanders have connected so far, according to ICT minister Amy Adams.

Adams’ office says 131,000 premises have fibre ducts passing through it, of which 34,000 were passed in the last quarter. These ducts don’t necessarily have actual fibre inside them, as they are left empty until fibre is blown through when connecting a user.

The UFB’s aim is to have 75 percent of New Zealanders able to access fibre services by 2019, but according to these latest figures, only three percent of those able to connect have done so.

Currently there are 18 retail providers offering UFB services, the largest two of these are Orcon (with around 1000 customers) and Callplus (with around 200, according to the NBR). The country’s two largest telcos, Telecom and Vodafone, have not announced any UFB plans yet (although Telecom says it will do so in March) and until they join the fray, bringing along their considerable marketing budgets, UFB is unlikely to become mainstream.

Telecommunication Users Association NZ (TUANZ) chief exec Paul Brislen says while smaller ISPs are doing their best to market UFB, they are unlikely to have a nationwide impact without the help of Telecom and Vodafone.

“I get into trouble with the smaller ISPs when I say this, because they are out there actively selling UFB, but the hard truth is [Telecom and Vodafone] do all the marketing. Once people decide to actually take a look at [UFB], they might move to a smaller provider. For the mass market, we need Telecom and Vodafone to get on board,” says Brislen.

Brislen says marketing the actual benefits of UFB is an important piece of the pie, which the government (through Crown Fibre Holdings) and Chorus have not done effectively. Again, this is an area where the Big Two’s marketing prowess would come in handy, he says.

“I’ve just been to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia… where they have a 30 percent uptake in fibre. It’s down to two things: how easy it is to connect … and the single biggest driver is TV,” says Brislen. “Telecom Malaysia has 100 channels of TV. They have a 10 Mbps dedicated line just for video. We can argue until we’re blue, but unless we have attractive content for our UFB, mum and dad New Zealanders won’t care.”

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